Growing environmental concerns have inspired individuals worldwide to reduce, reuse, and recycle to a greater extent than ever before. We see more hybrid vehicles on the street, more companies purporting “green” practices, and more cities improving or adopting recycling programs. And with the help of certain Toyota Prius-driving celebrities, it’s become hip to help the environment. This trend has not been ignored by the fashion industry, a community that thrives on what’s popular in the moment. In their eyes, green is the new black!
The eco-fashion trend goes far beyond hippie skirts and yoga clothes. Retailers such as H&M, Victoria’s Secret, Nordstrom, Esprit, The Gap, and Levi Strauss, as well as the expected REI, Patagonia, and Timberland, offer products made from organic fibers, particularly organic cotton. Other big-name companies such as Wal-Mart, Woolworth’s South Africa, C&A, Otto, Nike, Edun, Marks & Spencer, and Coop Switzerland, already active in their organic fiber market, are expanding their programs even more.
Consider this: The global organic cotton apparel, home, and personal care products market topped one billion dollars in 2006. That figure is expected to triple by the end of 2008 and double again by 2010, according to Berkeley, Calif.-based Organic Exchange.
According to a recent report issued by Organic Exchange, global retail sales for organic cotton products increased 85% to $1.1 billion in 2006, up from $583 million in 2005, and projections predict a sales increase to $3.5 billion in 2008 and $6.8 billion in 2010. One reason for this surge could be the large companies that have embraced the use of organic cotton. Wal-Mart (USA), Nike (USA), Coop Switzerland, Patagonia (USA) and Otto (Germany) currently use the most organic cotton. Woolworth’s South Africa and C&A (Belgium) introduced large programs last year, as well.
“Companies around the world are looking at their product lines and using organic cotton and other organic fibers to step more lightly on the planet,” said Organic Exchange executive director LaRhea Pepper. “By supporting organic agriculture, companies eliminate the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers, reduce the use of water due to soil building practices, and increase the number of beneficial insects and wildlife, all the while protecting the health of farmers and farm workers.”
That’s all fine and good, but if we shop for clothes made from organic fabrics, we don’t want to look like a potato sack. A few years ago, the organic apparel market seemed limited to T-Shirts with a designer price tag. Thankfully, that’s changed as retailers have found a happy medium between fashion, function, and social responsibility. H&M launched their organic clothing line in Spring 2007, targeting women, teens, kids, and babies with their 100% organic cotton dresses, tops, hoodies, and undies. In the fall, they expanded their line to include even more cute dresses, seperates, and other items. A far cry from a plain old beefy T, H&M’s organic selections are stylish, affordable and environmentally friendly—all good things! Their spring 2008 women’s line gives a nod to the ‘60s and ‘70s, with shades of grey, brown, red, yellow, and rose, in addition to standard black and white. Shirts range from casual to romantic, skirts hang and all lengths, and tailored blazers and coats can take an outfit from weekend to work.
In addition to large clothing retailers, a wealth of smaller outfits (no pun intended!) offer hip clothes made from natural goods. Gaiam, ShopEnvi, and Bamboo Styles all carry organic clothing, as does Bono’s new Edun brand. The company works on a micro-level to help build the skill sets of factories where the clothes are produced; namely, Kenya, Peru, and Tunisia, among other countries.
As an alternative to cotton, products made from organic wool keep us dry and comfortable in the cold and heat. Several companies, such as Maggie’s Organics and Fox River make organic socks, while SmartWool, which built their name with their popular line of hiking and running socks, offers a range of outdoor apparel made with sustainable practices in mind.
Eclat Textile Company, Ltd., a fabrics, apparel, and knitwear producer based in Taipei, Taiwan, produces a number of knit fabrics, including organic cotton, but also manufactures bamboo-blended fabrics found in some intimate and athletic apparel that is biodegradable. Their charcoal bamboo line is anti-bacterial. On a more fashionable front, Ciel produces contemporary women's fashion in hemp silks, bamboo, and other eco-awesome materials. And Krelwear makes prepurposed yarn into tubular, seamless sexy dresses, tops and scarves worn by the likes of Cristina Ricci and Cameron Diaz.
Surprisingly, even leather goods can tout the organic label. Strange but true, a California company, fittingly called Organic Leather, professes that the hides that they use come from organically fed and humanely raised cows. Furthermore, the tanning process uses plant tannins, smoke, or vegetable tannins to cure the leather, which reportedly means zero toxicity at the tanning facility. Right now the company sells leather bracelets, belts, and jewelry, and also creates custom clothing. They only sell their products online (www.organicleather.com), at their Mill Valley showroom, and at Tela D in Fairfax, Calif., but they expect their distribution to grow. But if you really want to splurge, you may also want to check out Romp (www.romp.uk.com), a UK-based company that sells apparel, footwear, and luggage, mainly from organic leather. The company claims to be able to track each product back to the farm (or cow) of origin, and can tell you the date, time, person, and location involved in the complete garment construction. That attention to detail comes with a cost: Their “Classic Mac” trench coat sells for nearly $1,500.
So the next time you hop in your hybrid car with your re-usable bags for a shopping splurge, you can do so with less guilt and just as much style by choosing organic.